I bought a house, on a one-way dead-end road. I don’t know how I got there. ~ Stephen Wright
Have you heard this joke of Stephen’s? I’ve listened to Stephen Wright many times, and each time I hear this witticism, I laugh. Listen to almost any comedian, and you will often hear them repeat their best jokes, or riff off of the old to create new jokes. Artists in other genres refine their art by riffing on patterns of reuse. Claude Monet devoted some thirty paintings to the haystacks in a field near his house at Giverny. Poet Audre Lorde revisits themes of racism, sexuality and nature.
I’ve spent a lifetime starting fresh with writing pieces, and as many of us know, the blank page can be daunting. I ask you, are you using one of the best sources for art – art you’ve previously created – as a source for more art? I ask myself, can I find inspiration in what I have already created? As humans, we love patterns. As an artist, I find that revisions can serve as both a work in process and as new milestones.
Monday is an awful way to spend 1/7th of your life. ~ Stephen Wright
Revisiting Mondays may be an awful way to spend your time, but revisiting your art – and the memory of people who inspire it – that can be a real pleasure. Here’s an example. Recently, I made a presentation to the Unitarian Universalist congregation which I serve as Office Manager. Designed to be more inspiring talk than annual report, many of my words were intended to honor the congregants. After my intro, I shared:
Over these last ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to see what phenomenal looks like. Phenomenal is the face of you. When children lose their toys on our roof, you say “I’ll get it down.” When we need to move prairie dogs off of our property, you say “Let’s do it in a way that respects them.” When we put up a Black Lives Matter banner, which we did a few years back, and it gets stolen – twice – you say “Let’s put up another.” It was a proud moment when a person of color stopped into the office, and thanked us for the banner. I replied on behalf of the congregation “You are very welcome.”
I went on to speak about specific projects, and concluded, “What does phenomenal look like? It looks like you.”
Let’s apply this philosophy of revisioning art to honor another group of people. Let’s see if I can make new art based on the old.
I would like to take this moment to speak in honor of African American people. Over the decades of my working career, of becoming more woke – which I will work on for the rest of my life – I have seen what phenomenal looks like. Phenomenal is the face of you. When a young scared white girl is lost on a Chicago commuter train, you pull out a Chicago transit map and help her find her way. When you are given a technical assignment to upgrade agent computers on a “you have one chance to do this right or thousands of agent computers will crash around the country,” you work it, and every single computer receives the upgrade and applies it successfully. When a disturbed white man shoots and kills, you forgive. When a cop murders your unarmed son, you, his beloved family and friends, ask for justice. What does phenomenal look like? It looks like you.
The philosophy of being inspired by my own art could be used to honor one marginalized group after another: single mothers, retirees, trans folx, Native Americans, folx who roll on wheelchairs and many more. In our culture, there are many opportunities to pay respect that is long overdue.
For the moment, I will pause and leave this revision stand for awhile, and take time to reflect upon people of color I have known or have learned about, who are, indeed, phenomenal.
@2020 Carol Pranschke with gratitude to Diane Glass and Rev. Ruth Rinehart for early feedback
A long-time creative since she was little, Carol’s first true love was story. Stories saved her life (along with meditation, long talks with sisters, and blowing big bubbles). She sees a storyteller in you, and would like to dialogue about transformative language. See more at Carol’s website, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.